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United States v. Aossey

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 14, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee,
v.
William B. Aossey, Jr., Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee,
v.
Midamar Corporation, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee,
v.
Jalel Aossey, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted: September 23, 2016

         Appeals from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Cedar Rapids

          Before COLLOTON, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         A grand jury charged Midamar Corporation, William Aossey, and Jalel Aossey with several criminal offenses arising from their sale of falsely labeled halal meat. The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment for lack of jurisdiction. Their theory was that Congress had reserved exclusive enforcement authority over the alleged statutory violations to the Secretary of Agriculture, and that the United States Attorney could not proceed against the defendants in a criminal prosecution. The district court[1] denied the motion, concluding that it was both untimely and incorrect on the merits.

         Midamar Corporation and Jalel Aossey then pleaded guilty conditionally to one count of conspiracy to commit several offenses in connection with the scheme, while reserving the right to appeal the denial of their motion to dismiss. William Aossey proceeded to trial, and a jury convicted him of conspiracy, making false statements on export certificates, and wire fraud. The defendants appeal the district court's denial of their motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The government does not assert that the motion was untimely, but defends the district court's decision on the merits, and we affirm.

         I.

         Midamar Corporation sells and distributes halal-certified meat and other food products in the United States and internationally. William Aossey founded Midamar in 1974; in 2007, he transferred ownership of Midamar to his sons, Jalel and Yahya Aossey. The United States Department of Agriculture regulates the company, and Midamar's meat labeling is governed by the Federal Meat Inspection Act. 21 U.S.C. § 601, et seq. Under the Act, the Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for the inspection and oversight of meat packaging and labeling.

         In February 2010, the USDA Office of Program Evaluation, Enforcement, and Review started an investigation into Midamar and its labeling practices. The Office concluded that between April 2007 and January 2010, Midamar employees, under the direction and supervision of the owners and managers, knowingly forged and falsified USDA export documents and certificates for shipments of purported halal beef. As a result of this investigation, the Inspection Service withdrew its services from Midamar. This withdrawal temporarily prevented Midamar from exporting meat products from its own facility. After Midamar proposed corrective and preventative measures, the Inspection Service gave notice in July 2011 that it intended to reinstate services for the company.

         Three years later, the government obtained an indictment against the defendants. A grand jury charged Midamar, Jalel Aossey, and others with conspiracy to make and use false statements, sell misbranded meat, and commit mail and wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. The indictment also charged them with making false statements on export certificates, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 611(b)(5), wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(A), and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). The grand jury charged William Aossey with the same violations in a separate indictment.

         The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the criminal case because the Meat Inspection Act gave the Secretary of Agriculture exclusive jurisdiction to address the specified violations. The district court denied the motion. Midamar and Jalel Aossey entered conditional guilty pleas, and William Aossey was convicted after a jury trial. The district court imposed sentences, and this appeal followed.

         II.

         The issue joined on appeal is whether two provisions of the Meat Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 674 and 607(e), removed this case from the district court's jurisdiction. Although we have upheld convictions based on violations of the Meat Inspection Act in previous cases, e.g., United States v. Jorgensen, 144 F.3d 550 (8th Cir. 1998) (addressing misbranding in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 610), the jurisdictional argument advanced here has not been raised and decided, so we must consider it as an original matter. See Fed. Election Comm'n v. NRA Political Victory Fund, 513 U.S. 88, 97 (1994). We review the district court's conclusion on this legal issue de novo.

         Under 18 U.S.C. § 3231, "[t]he district courts of the United States shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of all offenses against the laws of the United States." The grand jury charged the defendants with committing such offenses, and the district court asserted jurisdiction under § 3231. Section 3231 is generally the "beginning and the end of the 'jurisdictional' inquiry, " United States v. White Horse, 316 F.3d 769, 772 (8th Cir. 2003) (quotation omitted), but Congress can remove the district courts' jurisdiction over criminal prosecutions if it makes a "clear and unambiguous expression of the legislative will." United ...


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